It is one of the great paradoxes of New York City: How is that there can be so many people, so many of whom are lonely and isolated?
While clearly loneliness and isolation do not affect all New Yorkers (at least most of the time) and while certainly loneliness exists outside of the five boroughs, the paradox is worth exploring.
Being around people doesn’t negate experiencing loneliness
Many of my patients tell me that they just don’t get why they feel lonely (or they even have a hard time identifying their experience as loneliness).
For some people, the challenge is in making connections to people from within the crowd. For myriad reasons, New York can be a tough place to get to know people.
In other instances, the challenge isn’t connecting with people at all. “I have lots of friends, I work with nice people, I don’t get it?” So what’s missing? Often when we look further into the matter, we discover that the difficulty has to do with how close those relationships are. Loneliness is about having people to spend time with, to be sure, but it’s also about having relationships that involve a measure of give and take. Are you the one always taking care of others in your life? Are you able to be close emotionally–to share experiences and get help from time to time with your own struggles from those who are close to you? Are the people with whom you have relationships available?
Being lonely and feeling lonely are not the same thing
Feelings are funny things, and oftentimes they’re unreliable. We may be surrounded by close and meaningful relationships and still hold on to a feeling of loneliness. Sometimes we need help getting unstuck from this old way of seeing things–we need help to see the close, meaningful relationships that are right in front of us.
Psychotherapy for loneliness: More than good company
Therapy can pretty obviously help with loneliness by bringing a new person if your life (the therapist) whom you can be close to and spend time with (at least an hour or so a week). I think this is where a lot of therapist-patient relationships get into trouble. Good therapy should be about more than creating a fix, and therapists should do more than be good company. Good therapy helps people get better and building relationships, and engages issues that are raised around the notion of getting closer to people. The relationship with the therapist is very real indeed, and is likely to be an important and meaningful relationship, but it shouldn’t stop there.